, 21 August, 2020 / 7:33 PM
A Prelate in Sierra Leone has, in a reflection about COVID-19 in Africa, identified the “virus of corruption” as a major stumbling block in the fight against the pandemic on the continent.
“We must stop the great virus of corruption that is blocking Africa. Otherwise, COVID-19 may become, for some, an opportunity to obtain resources for personal benefit,” says the Apostolic Administrator of Makeni Diocese in Sierra Leone, Bishop Natale Paganelli.
In the reflection published Friday, August 21 by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Bishop Paganelli notes that “there are, unfortunately, those who want Africa to remain poor and those who want corruption to continue because in this way they control the minerals.”
“It is convenient to keep the African economy poor and dependent on foreign aid, so as to be able to control its wealth,” the member of the Xaverian Missionary Fathers says and laments, “Sierra Leone is rich in minerals, but more than 70% of the population is in poverty.”
For this reason, the Prelate says, “It is necessary for Africans to be vigilant.”
Since the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Sierra Leone at the end of March, there have been at least 1,972 reported cases of the disease; 69 patients have died and 1,542 have recovered.
In July, doctors who were treating COVID-19 patients in Sierra Leone reportedly went on strike over unpaid dues, leaving patients in some of the main treatment centers without care.
In the August 21 reflection, Bishop Paganelli highlights other challenges the west African country is facing in the fight against the global pandemic.
“In Sierra Leone, other diseases and hunger kill more than COVID-19. A few years ago, Ebola claimed many victims: at least five thousand people. We saw people get sick and die,” the 63-year-old Prelate says in his reflection.
He adds, “Malaria also severely affects the country. Every year more than 1,000 children under the age of five die of the disease and 40% of patients visited in hospitals have symptoms of this disease.”
The Italian-born Prelate who has been at the helm of the Diocese of Makeni since 2012 further says that “the population doubts the danger of COVID-19” and that people leave “hospitals and go to native doctors for treatment.”
COVID-19 restrictions have taken an economic toll on the people in Sierra Leone, spurring sporadic protests in the West African country for months.
In his reflection, the Church leader also expresses concern about the economic impact of the pandemic saying, “What worries me most, as it is the case in other African states, is the economic impact of the disease on an already poor population that is struggling to earn what is necessary to bring food home every day.”
“The mines are still closed because of the lockdown, there was a curfew, people couldn't go out on the streets to sell their products in the informal trade. Hunger has increased disproportionately, and from poverty, people have moved quickly to misery,” the Bishop says.
Faced with these challenges, Bishop Paganelli further says, the Church leadership through Caritas Makeni has been providing palliatives to the less privileged in the Diocese.
“The Diocesan Caritas has been distributing foodstuff with the support of Caritas Italiana of the Italian Episcopal Conference. The Pontifical Mission Societies (PMS) has been supporting Priests, Religious and catechists engaged in human development and pastoral activities,” the Prelate says in his reflection.
“We had to ask for help in order to distribute rice, onions, salt, and spices to ensure the survival of the poorest,” Bishop Paganelli further says and adds, “So far there is much solidarity.”
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa